Monday, February 27, 2012

New hobbies

We took a long weekend/short vacation last week to northern Minnesota and let me tell you, friends, that I always pick the expensive hobbies.

First it was dance (classes, costumes) then it was quilting (fabric!), now it's skiing. Oh, yes. Because why not? Everyone told me when I moved to the upper midwest that I would need to develop a winter hobby and there's really nothing winterier than downhill skiing, I guess. And nothing much more expensive if you go all out.

The weekend was around $1,000 for the two of us, for three days of skiing, four nights in a chalet, and food and transportation. We'll get a little bit back from the friend who stayed on the couch in our suite, but Peanut at least is now interested in buying used ski equipment, and I'm considering it. I'm not what you'd consider good at skiing by any means - I spent more time trying to get back up to standing than actually flying down the mountain - but I had a lot of fun and probably the best and cheapest way to learn is to get my own used equipment and practice at slopes much closer to home.

All told, though, I'm glad we took the trip. I hadn't realized how much I was looking forward to a break and I really haven't been anywhere else in the region since we moved here. I'm now totally in love with this state, the nature, the unironic and authentic nature of the people we met, the friendliness of everyone, basically everything. I think of myself as GRITS first (Girl Raised In The South), New Yorker second, but I think given some time I might renounce it all and become a tried and true Minnesotan, doncha know? You betcha!

Oh, another hobby that Peanut and I have picked up: estate sales. We're looking for cheap ways to acquire some furniture (a guest room set, eventually a living room set) and estate sales are good for that. We also just like seeing the insides of other houses - something we didn't get tired of in our quick home search. So far, however, we've bought a bunch of stuff we didn't have on our list - funny coffee mugs, throw pillows, a pitcher. They're all super cheap, but it all adds up, you know?

I think I need to look for some hobbies like making art out of dryer lint or toenail clippings - anything to stop spending money like water the way we have been lately!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Linkfest: Two days late edition

One Frugal Girl asks would $10,000 change your life? While a random $10,000 would certainly be very nice...I think that no, it wouldn't change my life at this point. We probably put some of it aside for our future spendy purchases like a second car and use the rest to pay off some of our student loan debt. It wouldn't make a big dent in either our debt or our savings.

This is really weird. I remember, not that long ago, hyperventilating over having paid the movers $100 more than I meant to. At that time, $100 was the difference between a some interesting meals and a month of ramen noodles. And now I'm saying $10,000 wouldn't make a big difference in my life! What an about face. (For the record, the two biggest reasons for the difference between then and now are sharing income and expenses with another person and moving to an area with a much better cost of living. No real magic to it, just some choices and time.)

I think that if Money Beagle and I weren't already married to other people, we'd be perfect for each other. Case in point: his list of 500 things to do around his house this year. I have to admit, I have spent more time than necessary making a similar list, although I didn't count how many things are on it. :) It's about a full page per month, and many of the chores repeat on a monthly or seasonal basis, but it's still a lot of stuff to do. However....now I'm wondering if I should turn it into a spreadsheet. I do love spreadsheets....

I talked about how there's not always room for improvement last week, and Small Notebook is backing me up on this! Getting more organized is not the answer. (Hmm, note to self: see your link above and ask yourself if it's really necessary to spend all the time to transfer your chore list from a word document to a spreadsheet. Perhaps your time would be better spent, you know, doing those chores? Hmm?) Sometimes learning to live in the wabi sabi is the best.

This New York Times article about how Target uses shopping information to predict your life milestones so they can market to you is a time commitment - and a really amazing read. I'm so freaked out and bothered by the idea of how companies are using our information that I really just want to opt out of the whole process. Shopping at estate sales and Goodwill this weekend helped to drive home the point that there ARE options out there - I just need to keep them in the front of my mind instead of the back of my mind (case in point: discovering the exact same staple gun at goodwill, brand new in the package, for half the price I paid at Home Depot two days earlier. D'oh!) Anyway, go read that NYT article, and let's talk about it.

Read this post at So Over Debt about for one line, if for nothing else: We make time for the things we want to do most. There's more great stuff in that post, but that was the line I really needed to read.

I really loved the section in The Happiness Project about Personal Commandments, and this post is a great idea to revive mine. I even wrote them down somewhere...but where they might be is beyond me. Perhaps I am better served by making some new ones.  How about:

  • The perfect is the enemy of the good (or: 80% is perfection)
  • Breathe.
  • Notice how that makes you feel. (Notice, as opposed to judge)
  • Spend out (copied from Gretchen, who, like me, is an underbuyer)
  • Quality not quantity
More to come, most likely!
The Non-Consumer Advocate talks about getting what you pay for - and how this especially applies when cheaping out on something that will come back to haunt you.

Frugal Beautiful details her challenges of living frugally. I am right there with her on hers: taking time to plan ahead, dealing with outside materialistic pressures, adjusting how you spend your time. I'd add "becoming complacent when things go smoothly".  What are some of the challenges you face in living frugally?

Monday, February 20, 2012

My wallet is screaming

Holy potatoes, y'all.

Peanut and I have just spent the last three days. That's it. We've just spent them. It's as if we've tried to determine all the different things we could spend money on, and then we went out and bought them. For reals.

However.

Every purchase was planned. It could be argued that they were not necessary, because additional woden spoons and restaurant-grade cookware are not truly necessary. But we have planned them and saved for them and waited for the time when we could go shopping together, and lo, that weekend coincided with the time we realized that Peanut has not purchased any clothing in almost two years and that estate sales are a darned good place to find both kitchenware and secondhand furniture.

I have not yet tallied the damage up in our spreadsheet, but here's a quick rundown of what happened this weekend:
Costco
Grocery store (at least twice)
Home Depot
Estate sales (multiple. Many multiples.)
Salvation Army/Target Extras
Regular old Target (more than once)
Restaurant supply stores (uh, yes. Plural.)
Peanut's parents' closet

I would guess that we spent something less than $1,000, but we spent more than $200 on a single Target visit, so I'll put it close to $500. Ouch. Whee. Ouch.

The psychology of shopping is very interesting.We started out excited about the options and being less than picky. We experienced regret, thinking we could have got a better price elsewhere. We honed our talents and got very picky, determined exactly what we needed and passed up anything that didn't match. We got tired, stopped being picky again. We got determined, finished up, and then realized we forgot one thing: shoes. Too exhausted to continue, we will go on the prowl another time.

It's important to me to recognize those cues. Acquiring things is in some ways the human condition - we need more food, we need to replace clothing with holes worn through - and we tried to do it in ways that made sense, by going secondhand or direct when possible or purchasing equipment to help us repair something instead of replacing it. Getting overwhelmed with shiny new objects is the surest route to financial obliteration.

All in all, this long weekend was tiring but satisfying - I am not elated that we spent most of our waking hours shopping, but I am glad that it's mostly over. We may very well take up estate saling as a hobby, but mostly for the voyeuristic appeal of being inside other houses in our neighborhood (clearly, we did not spend a ton of time shopping for houses!). The allure of the $0.25 unique coffee mug helps too.

Actually, one of the things that really stands out to me in general from this weekend is how well made old stuff seems to be. The estate sales we visited had a lot of quality kitchenware that had clearly been in use for decades and was still going strong. Our IKEA wok hasn't even lasted five years, and truthfully probably should have been retired some time ago. The really good stuff - cast iron and real, old pyrex - got scooped up before we got there but there was enough left behind that even I can see the quality. This, perhaps, is the greatest joy of my flirtation with The Compact - that my shopping may not be in vain, because this purchase or that one might be the last time I have to buy this particular whatchamahoosit - because this one will last me forever and will someday be sold at MY estate sale. That's a really nice thought.

Did you have a spendy weekend, or were you able to rein it in?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Getting better all the time?

You know the phrase "there's always room for improvement"?

I take issue with that.

In fact, I think, at some point you have to know when to say enough is enough and recognize that the perfect is the enemy of the good.

I sort of realized this one day when I was complaining about our grocery spending and how I wanted to rein it in a little, and Peanut said, "For what? We spend a reasonable amount of money on food for two people. We cook mostly from scratch. We've got to eat and that costs money."

And I realized, he's right. In order to live in this world, you've got to eat, and food costs money. I cannot possibly get our grocery budget down to $0. Without relatively significant cuts to our standard of living, I can't get it down much lower than it already is - maybe $100 cheaper, but only by losing way more than $100 in enjoyment of our life. Likewise, I can't negotiate the costs of electricity, gas, trash, or water much lower than we're paying - in fact, 95% of our gas and water costs are simply the cost of having the service at all - the amount we'd have to pay if we never turned on the hot water faucet.

At some point you have to realize that you've done all you can do to save money without making yourself miserable. As Ramit Sethi recommends, you can instead choose to focus on earning more money. Or, as I think I'd like to do, you can focus on contentment and quit trying to find a way to improve things at all. Sometimes, good enough is a-okay.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Linkfest: Super productive edition

I have been super productive this weekend. I've always rather enjoyed housework, at least in terms of I enjoy a clean space and this is what it takes to get there. But owning my house has really brought out the Clean Person in me - I've been doing things like washing (and IRONING) curtains and scrubbing the drawer under the stove and otherwise being nitpicky - and I'm loving every minute of it. If this is nesting, Peanut is going to have to watch it when I get pregnant - I'll be scrubbing everything in sight with a toothbrush.

I think I'm done with the big stuff - just finishing up the laundry and baking an apple pie now. Then I'll get to some crafty things, like fixing the elbows on my worn cardigans and finish piecing a quilt top, relaxing in a house that's starting to feel more like my home with every weekend.

I love Cate's advice on writing thank you notes - I am a compulsive thank-you-note-writer, and I think she nails it with all of her recommendations. Writing thank you notes seems to be a lost art - but it's important. (And if you are ever in a situation where you wonder if you should write a thank you note, do it! I've never, ever regretted writing one, but I have regretted the few times when I didn't get to it. I've also never been offended by receiving one, so get to writing!)

Andrea at So Over Debt got rid of a boatload of clothes! I've been feeling an itch to declutter my own closet, even though I'm pretty sure I only want to do it as an excuse to go buy new stuff.

This post at Lifehacker has what I consider to be a really important point: "The most important thing to remember is that you have complete control over what personal data you choose to provide to any given company. You do not have to post embarrassing photos to Facebook or shop for an erotic massager on Amazon. It's important to be aware of the trade you're making every time you willingly provide information with a company's web site. You should consider each interaction like a conversation with a potentially gossipy friend. Visiting a product page on Amazon while signed in to your account can be considered the same as telling someone "I'm interested in learning more about this product." If you want to keep any information private, simply do not share it. You have to take responsibility for what you do and do not share online."

Some of Google's moves lately have made me a little uncomfortable and I've started to be more careful to log out of my account when I'm not actively using email, docs, reader or calendar. Even though I don't use their search engine (I use Swagbucks), I feel like they're keeping track of what I'm searching for when I'm logged in, and it's just too much information in one place. Unlike Facebook, which is pretty easy to avoid, I use Google to manage my life (see the list above - plus maps, image search, YouTube, Blogger...) so that will be a hard quit to make. But I have a feeling I will be making it eventually.

Five Things Wealthy People Never Say - these aren't cliched Sh*t ____ People Say quips, either, but really good advice.

Here I go getting all morbid on you again - the 25 documents you should have in place before you die (via the Wall Street Journal).

Another good reminder from Zen Habits - pause. Pause before you reach for a second helping or the remote control or a habitual internet timesuck or an angry word. Just pause, and see what happens.

And after you pause and decide to go for the timesuck anyway, here are the 102 best money websites.

EE Musings asks what you'd do if you lost your job - the worst case scenario. It wasn't until reading her post that I realized I have always done my worst case scenarios assuming that there would be no additional income - that either Peanut's or my income would totally disappear. Since unemployment is something that I've paid into with every job I've worked, I would sign up for and accept it without qualms. However, when figuring what we should have in our emergency fund, I'm going to continue to forget about it as an option, and plan for us to be self-sufficient.

I....kind of really want to bake an egg in an avocado for breakfast. That looks so weird, but it combines some of my favorite things, and the meal is the dish! Has anyone tried this?

My post about keeping up appearances was included at the carnival of financial camaraderie.

Scammy McScammerpants

One of the things I really don't like about becoming a homeowner is the lack of privacy we've just opened ourselves up to. Real estate transactions are public record. It hasn't happened yet, but as soon as the county processes everything, when you google our names you will draw up our real estate tax records and you'll have my physical address right at your fingertips. There's nothing to be done about it without creating a trust and buying the house through the trust, which would make our lives infinitely more complicated than they already are. And I'm probably more paranoid than I need to be, because everyone else I know who owns a house is in the exact same situation. (But I'm mainly irritated because with my new-ish married name, there are fewer than two pages of Google results, all of which are actually me. So this information will be very easy to find.)

However, besides the creepy factor, there's the really annoying deceptive advertising factor. Lots and lots of companies now have our names and mailing address, and there doesn't seem to be much chance of getting that information out of their hands. We're getting all sorts of stupid advertisements in the mail for all sorts of stupid things, but the one that showed up on Friday takes the cake (so far).

It's official looking and addressed to Peanut.* It's from "Nationwide Biweekly Administration" and a big headline says "IMPORTANT SAVINGS NOTICE: OPTIONAL CHANGE OF PAYMENT FREQUENCY" with a note that "A bi-weekly program will eliminate 6-10 years off your current $207,000 loan".

So. The originating name is generic enough that it could be from the bank that holds our mortgage (and since most mortgages are sold soon after closing, as ours was, and we haven't had to make our first payment yet, I'm not even 100% sure at this point who DOES own our mortgage - guaranteed to be confusing). They've also got the amount of our mortgage correct, so it would be pretty easy to mistake this for official paperwork.

We've considered switching to bi-weekly mortgage payments as soon as our student loans are paid off, because it really does save you a lot of money. When we went over our mortgage paperwork, we made sure that this option was available to us and that there was no penalty for paying off the loan earlier than 30 years. The thing is, through our lender, those options are available to us for free - so what's the angle on this offer that just showed up in the mail? Why would they offer to do something for us that we can do free ourselves - unless there was something in it for them? The letter said nothing about fees or charges, just talked about how much we can save by using this method.

So we did some looking around, and Peanut discovered that the most frequent search terms in connection with "Nationwide Biweekly Administration" are words like "scam", "review", "rip off" and "better business bureau". Hmm. The second result for the company's name is a RipoffReport.com review. Hmmmmm. And if you click through to that review, you discover undisclosed nonrefundable fees, even if you never use them to pay your mortgage (I guess you have to give them your account info to register to find out more?). Ah ha! And if you dig around some more, you find out that they charge another $3.50 on every biweekly payment, a neat $91 for them per year. Even if they saved us six years off our mortgage, that would be just over $1,000 made off of something we can do for free ourselves. Multiply that by all the people who fall for this and you can start to see where their profit model comes from. (Also consider the fact that they might be selling your information elsewhere AND the fact that they have your bank account information. It gives me the creeps.)

If you want to pay off your mortgage on a biweekly basis, make arrangements directly with either your lender or your bank to set up automatic payments (watch out for fees from them too!), or set up a calendar reminder to send you an email to write a check or make a payment manually. There is no need to pay for something that you can do for free.

Also make sure to carefully read any paperwork that you get from anyone offering to save you money. Ask yourself why they'd do it for free, and figure out how they make their money. No company is out there doing business for nothing.

Now I'm off to figure out how to get ourselves off this company's mailing list for good...


*Can I complain for a second that everything is showing up in Peanut's name? We took this house as joint tenancy, and my name is on every official document that his name is on, but the water bill shows up automatically to MR. Lastname, as does the gas/electric, trash, mortgage paperwork and everything else. I suddenly became Mrs. Doesn'thandlethebills,she'stoopretty. (I don't think our joint name causes this issue, but maybe it does. Anyone own a house with a partner with a different last name can clarify that for me?) I'd say it doesn't matter, but I may be missing out on valuable credit history information here!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Review: The Behavior Gap

Reading and reviewing personal finance books can be a very hit or miss proposition for me. I have done a lot of pf reading over the years, and I'm pretty well set in terms of how I view things. I don't need budgeting advice. I don't want investment advice. I'm not looking to coupon so hard that I get a basement full of nonperishables, nor am I so close to retirement that it'll be hard to fund it. Inspiration is nice, but I tend to find that through bloggers instead of through books. I don't want a four-hour work week, I don't need you to teach me to be rich, my dads are neither rich nor poor, and I definitely don't want sexist advice from either gender. Instead, I'm looking for something a little more difficult to define - something inspirational yet educational that doesn't actually tell me what to do but helps me refine my understanding of my own goals and how to reach them with my particular finances. 

Basically, I'm looking for someone to give me advice that actually pertains to my exact situation - something that by the very nature of mass media is impossible.
Well, The Behavior Gap does it. The book promises to help you:

  • avoid the tendency to buy high and sell low;
  • avoid the pitfalls of generic financial advice;
  • invest all of your assets—time and energy as well as savings—more wisely;
  • quit spending money and time on things that don’t matter;
  • identify your real financial goals;
  • start meaningful conversations about money;
  • simplify your financial life;
  • stop losing money

It seems like a tall order for a book that weighs quite a bit less than a doorstop - but I think it's pulled off really well. For one thing, the concepts are cleverly illustrated with (literal) back-of-the-napkin drawings. Seeing things detailed as a Venn diagram or simple line graph sometimes does more to explain human behavior than six paragraphs of words could ever do.

In addition, Carl Richards is pretty explicit that he can't give you advice in this book that would be beneficial to your situation - there are just too many variables! Instead, his goal is to help you question your own motives so you can make the decisions that are right for you - the person with all the information you need. 


Now, on to some of the specific things that really inspired me about this book:

Planning and strategy are first and foremost. As Dave Ramsey says, If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. In The Behavior Gap, Carl Richards details how to develop a strategy that works for YOU to achieve YOUR goals in a framework that's realistic for your life. As he puts it, "Financial decisions almost always are life decisions. Before you decide on your financial decisions, you need to choose your life goals." Create a plan that will act as guidelines for your behavior, and when you make a financial decision, whether it's a large one or a small one, check it against your plan. If it doesn't match up - no matter what a "great deal" it might be - you owe it to yourself to pass it up.


Seems simple, right? But consider a framework wherein you want to limit risk in order to slowly develop a nest egg. And then somehow you are offered a chance to go in on early stock from Facebook's IPO - and somehow in our hypothetical world, you're offered the stock for 50% off. Sounds like an awesome opportunity - but it would be the wrong decision in terms of the framework of your strategy. You'd have to stop your emotional reaction in order to focus on the parameters that you've set up for yourself. It's really hard - but in a way, it's also a relief. I've used this effectively myself, by setting a "policy" for my life. Sorry, my policy is to not use store credit cards - I'm not going to apply for that card, even though it offers me 10% off, because that's my policy. Sorry, I'm a nonsmoker. Nonsmokers don't buy cigarettes, so therefore I will not be buying that pack of cigarettes or bumming a cigarette. Nonsmokers don't smoke, and I'm a nonsmoker. Therefore...


This isn't financial planning - it's psychology. And it WORKS.


Back to our Facebook example. If you succumb to every whim of investing, you'll wind up with a collection of hot stocks that don't have a cohesive strategy behind them. You'll tend to fall for the funds that come recommended in slick magazines or websites (which only make money by trying to sell you stuff) instead of the ones that actually would serve your short and long-term goals the best. My goals will be different from your goals - maybe vastly different. Given that, is it likely to make the best financial sense for us to both invest in the same stock that's been recommended to everyone in the world? Probably not.


Who do we look to as experts? This is important because it not only helps us define our own goals, but as Carl Richards says "We have a tendency to assume that what we do know is more important than what we don't know." Reading widely to determine what it is we don't know - and to learn more about it, explained by people who don't have their hands in our pocketbooks - is really important.

Science fiction author Robert Heinlein wrote in Time Enough For Love that "A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects." Expanding on this, I'd say that any adult should be able to balance a checkbook, create a budget, forecast expenses, calculate compound interest, save for a rainy day, negotiate the price of a large purchase, research an investment or large expense, and qualify for a loan. We should not make the mistake of thinking that what we do know about any of these facets of personal finance is more important than what we don't know.


In addition, listening to anyone - family members, friends, experts - can be misleading for one big reason that we tend to overlook. "People tend to give you advice that's based on their own fears, their own experience, their own expertise, their own motivations. Their advice typically has little to do with the reality of your life," he notes. Not just about finances - think abut they kind of advice you get from people about your love life, restaurants to go to, where to live. Of course it can only be based on their own experiences. 


It’s important to figure out what will really make you happy and focus on that - ultimately, you’re the one who has to live with it. Your own happiness is dependent on what you expect out of life - if you can come up with realistic expectations that will satisfy your major goals, how much money you have is beside the point. 


Carl Richards goes on to offer both some general and specific ideas about how you can define that happiness for yourself, and by defining, achieve it. My happiness will not look like your happiness. My goals will not look like yours. Our roads to our respective happy endings may look totally different from each other’s, but hopefully one thing will be similar - the behavior we exhibit along the way. Not the specific acts, but the means of getting there. Identifying our destination and, like a good pilot, making course corrections along the way to ensure we get there. 


The Behavior Gap is so full of fantastic information and quotable quotes that I filled up pages and pages for this post - but really, all of that is to say this: go read this book. 


Full disclosure: I received a digital copy of this book to read for review. That in no way influenced by opinion of it, and in fact I intend to go buy a copy to keep on my shelf and maybe a second to loan out to people who need to read it.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Keeping Up Appearances

When I was about twelve, I needed a Caboodle. I mean, NEEDED. My life - not to mention my popularity and the ability to even show my face at school - was in jeopardy. My mom refused to buy me one since I had a whole drawer to myself in the bathroom, so I saved up my money and spent about $20 on a purple and pink Caboodle with a sea-green C clasp. Like the pastel tacklebox it really was, when it opened a tray lifted out of it so that I could see all my Love My Lips makeup products in one easy glance. I could show up for sleepovers without shame. I even took it on camping and backpacking trips.

Looking back on it now, I'd rather have the twenty bucks. I currently use an old mesh bag to store my makeup in - I'm not sure where I got it, but I've had it for years and years. It might have come from a thrift store or it might have been a hand-me-down. I don't remember purchasing it, but if I did buy it new, I'd bet I didn't spend more than $5 on it. I also have a few other cosmetics bags which hold other things, like extra q-tips or sample-sized shampoos, and all of those are of similarly obscure heritage - received with samples from Target's annual beauty giveaway, picked up from free piles in dorms.

All of these bags work just fine - they hold my cosmetics and keep my medicine cabinet clean. They are easy to toss in a bag for traveling. I don't remember the last time another person saw them, and I certainly don't care what anyone else would think of them.

Similarly, I've noticed that a coworker brings his lunch to work in a bag that has his son's name written on it. I would have been horrified to carry my lunch to school in a bag that had someone else's name on it. I'm not sure which would be worse - a parent's name or a sibling's name. Either would have been the kiss of death! I went through a phase of "needing" a certain type of lunch bag, and when I didn't get it, I refused to use anything reusable, insisting on paper bags (so wasteful!). (I was a vegetarian, and my school didn't offer vegetarian lunch options, hence packed lunches.)

Nowadays, I toss my lunch in a bag leftover from a book conference, or in my purse, or just carry it in my hands between the house and the car, and the car and the office. It never occurs to me to think about what other people - or Teenage Me - would think about my food-transport methods. I don't even really care if people notice that I bring lunch instead of buying lunch every day - it's my business.

Were these matters simple quirks of being a teenager or am I still keeping up appearances in other ways - to the detriment of my finances?

I have an iPhone. We replaced our glasses with a matching set when we got married. I washed my car the other day because it was filthy - but more out of not wanting to be judged than worrying about the paint. I rejected any houses I found ugly. Let's not even get into money spent on clothing and physical appearance.

I'd argue that pretty much all money spent aside from bare necessities and certainly over-and-above the bare necessities is at least partially spent in order to keep up an appearance of some type. The problem comes when money is being spent solely to keep up appearances - replacing a perfectly good television for a bigger, sleeker one to impress guests that come over twice a year. Spending more for an iconic design covering the outside of a handbag. Financing a new car to replace one that has many years of life left in it. It's all about identifying the hidden motivations behind a purchase, and making intentional choices.

Are there areas in which you spend to keep up appearances? Are they necessary expenditures? How could you reduce them?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Linkfest

Katy at The Non-Consumer Advocate talks about what a travesty it is when your only home project is to figure out where to place your gorgeous perfect furniture - or the disservice of having everything at your fingertips. I find this so true. Our house was in great condition when we moved in, mechanically speaking. But it wasn't mine. It's becoming mine, as I deep clean appliances, make small repairs that could easily be ignored, as I make plans to paint. The curry I made last week wasn't all that great, but I made it out of leftovers that were already in my fridge, and I learned something for next time. Isn't that ultimately much more satisfying than ordering out for a quick meal that's forgotten as soon as the takeout containers are thrown away?

"I will be as gentle with myself as I am with other people" - a great reminder from Small Notebook.

How to donate your body to science - very timely! I mean, well, not that I'm hoping to do that soon, but Peanut and I are looking into creating wills and all that, and this is one of the options we wanted to look into.

Lifehacker on the stupid things you do online and how to fix them.

I had an ah-ha moment this week. When we moved in to the house I realized I hated all of our picture frames, because they're black and they look really bad against our blue living room walls. I hate buying frames, and I kept grumbling to myself about how I'd have to watch for a sale at Michael's and then I saw this post at Fiscally Chic. DUH - paint the frames!

I read a rumor a few weeks ago that JD had sold Get Rich Slowly for over a million dollars within the last few years, but I searched GRS and didn't find any mention of it so I figured it was just a rumor. Turns out, it was true (JD doesn't name the amount he was paid, but I'd say a million - or close to it - is reasonable). I understand why he didn't say anything at the time - I probably would have unsubscribed, expecting the content to turn into marketing-speak, but as a reader I do feel a little misled. I tend to prefer pf blogs written by real people writing honestly about their actual finances, so I was already on the fence about what GRS has turned into. It seems like it's going back to its roots a little, which is nice to see.

Another Non-Consumer post, about the daily frugality Katy takes advantage of. I have a ways to go (see the link above about my eureka moment regarding painted frames vs. new ones!) but I do things like take my lunch to work, not have cable, get books from the library, and try to remember my favorite line from that post: Frugality is about feeling empowered, not embittered by these hundreds of daily decisions.

Fortune Magazine and CNN says executives are lamenting the skills and attitudes that new graduates have in the workplace. I also recently read a book that mentioned that twenty and thirty-somethings are developing a reputation for being rude to real estate agents and other third-party sales people. Is this a casual-ization of our society or a sign that those of us accustomed to interacting online are losing valuable real-life skills?

I expected this post about unexpected uses for microwaves to be the same-old, same-old, but I learned something new: soften brown sugar! I also love the advice about using it to proof bread dough (or in our case, pizza dough).

I've been compiling a list of chores to do around our house that are things we've never had to face as renters - things like cleaning the furnace filter and dryer ducts, and watching for ice dams on the roof. I'm going to create an ongoing calendar of those tasks, so I was pleased to see a post by Money Beagle about what got done in January.

Well-Heeled posted about her monthly technology costs. Our costs run to about $150 per month. My iPhone (a low-priced voice and data package that no longer is offered by AT&T) is $66 per month. Peanut's Droid costs $45 per month (he's on his family's plan). Our internet service is around $30 per month (introductory rate for six months). We don't have cable, we don't have netflix, we don't have satellite radio, we don't buy ebooks or music or movies. Peanut buys videos games a few times a year during Steam sales, usually spending $20 each time. The video game I play was bought almost six years ago and has no monthly fee, so it's pennies per month at this point. I'm not sure we could cut our costs any more without cutting our standard of living, and we're a pretty plugged in family. What are your technology costs?

I've been thinking of converting my desk at work to a standing desk. I could benefit from the extra movement (although I'd probably have to downsize from my 3.5-inch heels to something a little lower!) and two of my coworkers regularly use standing desks so it wouldn't be weird, even in my open-floor-plan office. Hmm.

Two tips from Trent: air up all your tires and figure out what's really important. It occurs to me that I don't know if we actually own a tire gauge. Oops. In terms of figuring out what's really important, I've been trying to identify that element in my own hobbies. I tend to try to do too much at once, so figuring out whether there's a common denominator and if that common denominator can be met in a different way is allowing me to streamline the things that vie for my time.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

January Recap/February Goals

January Goals
1. Move with a minimum of fuss. Success! This might be my favorite move of all time. The movers were super quick and pretty cheap, and when some friends stopped by to help with whatever we needed the night of the move, I was sitting on the couch with a book and a glass of wine. Amazing!

2. Live as cheaply as possible.  Well...aside from my out-of-control and unplanned hobby spending, we did pretty well here.

3. Go to four yoga classes. I made it to three. So close! I've also been doing a home practice, so at least I have done yoga more than four times in the month!

4.  Decide which color to paint the new rooms. Success! I've got plans for what colors to paint the master bedroom, master bathroom, and kitchen - I now just need to set up a painting day to have some helpers show up!

5.  Do not buy any new clothes.  Success! One could argue that I transferred my new clothes spending to pre-clothes or clothes-making-supplies, but...one would be only sort of correct. :)

February Goals
1. Make an appointment with a lawyer for drawing up wills and medical directives. Yep, that's me, admitting that I'm not going to get it done with NOLO paperwork and a notary. It'll cost some money, but hopefully not more than $200.

2. Pay taxes - or at least fill out TurboTax to the point of readiness. We tried to do this already but we didn't have all the paperwork we needed.

3. Figure out how to fund Roth IRAs for 2012. We've got a lot of plans for what to spend money on (a second car, furniture, minor renovations for the house) but first and foremost, we need to squeeze $10,000 out of somewhere to fund our Roth IRAs for the year.

4. Have a cheap ski weekend. We've been planning a ski weekend for the end of the month. I want to keep it cheap though - no need to go all out! We're splitting a room with a friend and I'll probably only go skiing one day and hang out and read the rest of the time. We also made sure that our lodge has a full kitchen so we can cook most of our own meals - but that doesn't mean they'll wind up being cheap.

5. Get my driver's license. I avoided doing this for one reason or another, but I really need to bite the bullet and change my New York license to a Minnesota one. Did you guys know I've been committing a misdemeanor for the last eight months? (Did you know it's been EIGHT MONTHS since I moved?! How did that happen??)

What are your goals for February?

January Spending Review

Alcohol $33.57
Blogs $82.47
Business expenses (deductable) $3.89
Car $355.13
Entertainment $24
Food—dining out $190.49
Food—groceries $306.14
Gifts $3.99
Household $37.12
House $29,409.54
Hygiene/Medical $1,137.45
Insurance $657.48
Mystery Shop Expense $33.65
Rent $450
Sewing/Quilting $88.14
Student loans $403.83
Taxes $277
Transportation $90
Utilities $183.22

Total Spending: $33,767.11

Things of note:

Most expensive month ever!!!!! Luckily, it's going to be awfully rare that we buy a whole house. :)

It really felt like a high-spending month in other areas to me, but the numbers show it wasn't really as bad as it seemed. I spent more than usual on sewing supplies, blogging, and the car (a correction to to our car insurance premium that's mostly been refunded), Peanut bought life and disability insurance, and I went to the dentist (remember, all our dental expenses are out of pocket now). But our more variable expenses - groceries, eating out, entertainment, household expenses and so on stayed reasonable and even lower than they have been lately. We also paid our last round of estimated taxes from Peanut's six months of freelancing (I'd rejoice over an upcoming easy tax year, only we just bought a house so I guess my days of 1040EZ are well behind me).

We're still owed a refund of our security deposits from our apartment plus a partial refund for the month's rent (that $450 fee is actually a lease-breaking fee). All in all, it wasn't a bad month, especially if I can rein it in on my hobby spending next month!